Global Marketing

Cross Cultural Marketing Mishaps

Good afternoon EMBA class of 2014. After going with many of my fellow classmates and spouses this weekend to South Coast Repertory to see the play Chinglish it inspired me to create a blog on cross cultural marketing mishaps.  For those of us that have seen Chinglish the examples below reinforce the importance of working reputable firms that have a great understanding of both their own cultural as well as the one they are interpreting for.

Please read the ten examples below and let me know think!

  • Locum is a Swedish company. As most companies do at Christmas they sent out Christmas cards to customers. In 1991 they decided to give their logo a little holiday spirit by replacing the “o” in Locum with a heart. You can see the result..


  • The Japanese company Matsushita Electric was promoting a new Japanese PC for internet users. Panasonic created the new web browser and had received a license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as an interactive internet guide.The day before the huge marketing campaign, Panasonic realised its error and pulled the plug. Why? The ads for the new product featured the following slogan, “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.” The company only realised its cross cultural blunder when an embarrassed American explain what “touch Woody's pecker” could be interpreted as!
  • The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name
    “FARTFULL” for one of its new desks. Enough said..
  • In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company could not understand why its British branches were refusing to use its latest motto “Wang Cares”. Of course, to British ears this sounds too close to “Wankers” which would not
    really give a very positive image to any company.
  • There are several examples of companies getting tangled up with bad translations of products due to the word “mist”. We had “Irish Mist” (an alcoholic drink),
    “Mist Stick” (a curling iron from Clairol) and “Silver Mist” (Rolls Royce car) all flopping as “mist” in German means dung/manure. Fancy a glass of Irish dung?
  • “Traficante” an Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain's underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.
  • In 2002, Umbro a UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new
    trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many
    organizations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi
    regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.
  • Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent 6 million pounds on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh' sauces. It received calls from numerous Punjabi speakers telling them that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse or ass”.
  • Honda introduced their new car “Fitta” into Nordic countries in 2001. If
    they had taken the time to undertake some cross cultural marketing research
    they may have discovered that “fitta” was an old word used in vulgar
    language to refer to a woman's genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In
    the end they renamed it “Honda Jazz”.
  • A nice cross cultural example of the fact that all pictures or symbols are not interpreted the same across the world: staff at the African port of Stevadores
    saw the “internationally recognised” symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea!



3 replies on “Cross Cultural Marketing Mishaps”

I never gave cross cultural Marketing much thought until I saw the Chinglish play… That vile, disloyal,woman that hooked up with the American sure was attractive wasn’t she? I wouldn’t mind working on a merger with her if you know what I mean.

That aside, I don’t find these mishaps to be a big deal. I think they are funny and they actually catch my attention – that might be a new Marketing Strategy to consider.

LOL! Nice blog Eric. Luckily I’ve not commited any major cultural faux pas but I’ve seen others do so. Not to the degree where business is lost but there is always that potential, and if nothing else a loss of respect.

Eric — Terrific post and so insightful! Yes the Chinglish play I think connected with so many of us because of the cross cultural mishaps we all, let alone marketers, can often stumble upon – even with all the best research and careful-ness in the world. Even on my tiny hometown island of Guam, there was a US national women’s clothing retailer which had a hard time being taken seriously because its very name was a rather interesting body part in our native vernacular. And that’s all I’ll say.

Comments are closed.